Tonight 60 Minutes aired an interview with U.S. Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta. In that interview, the Secretary of Defense made several important and provocative statements. These statements include:
- The fact that there have been efforts to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program
- The American intelligence community’s belief that the Iranians have “reached a point where they can assemble a bomb in a year or potentially less.”
- A warning that if the Iranians proceed with developing a nuclear weapon, the United States will prevent them from doing so.
It seems the purpose of the Defense Secretary’s interview was two-fold. First, he was using 60 Minutes as a medium to communicate a clear and unambiguous message to the Iranian leadership: stop pursuing the development of nuclear weapons or the United States would take action to halt Iran’s program. Second, he appeared to be making the Obama Administration’s case to the American people for rolling back Iran’s nuclear program.
In my opinion, this interview marks the next phase of American strategy to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. The first phase, which I consider the diplomatic phase, began in 2003. During this phase, the European Union sought to convince the Iranians to abandon their nuclear program. Not surprisingly, this campaign failed.
The second phase began with a series of economic and political sanctions of increasing severity over the past five to eight years. While these sanctions have had a crippling effect on the Iranian economy, and have greatly increased the difficulty of acquiring nuclear components for the Iranian regime, they have not deterred the mullahs from developing a nuclear capability.
The third phase, or sabotage campaign, began sometime in 2009 or 2010, and included the unleashing of the enigmatic Stuxnet virus, as well as the targeting killing of Iranian nuclear scientists. While this campaign may have delayed the advent of an Iranian bomb, it seems that it hasn’t been enough to stop the program entirely.
The fourth phase will likely be direct action against Iran’s nuclear facilities. It could include either a comprehensive bombing campaign on Iran’s air defense and nuclear assets, or a precision strike focused primarily on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Key targets would likely be those facilities essential in the uranium enrichment process.
Iran is about to cross a red line, in which American military action will inexorably follow. 2012 will be an interesting year, indeed.